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Technology; Theatres, Plays and Performance

Submitted for assessment to the University of the West of England 2011 for Drama and Creative Writing degree award. Copyright: Hannah Williams Walton 2011 Photo from the Blast Theory website:

Abstract Technology is now an integral part of modern society from the internet; to computers, mobile phones and gaming. It is clear that technology has made massive advances to society in terms of connecting the world however we must also examine the disciplines which may be struggling to adapt. The world of arts and theatre is a form that is routed in tradition which brings limitations in how far people are willing to push against normal conventions. This dissertation explores three sections of technology within theatre. Digital Technology and Theatres which explores the impact that the internet has had on the theatre in terms of marketing; and participation in the arts; looking at specific theatre websites, and the services Digital Theatre and National Theatre Live. Technology and the internet in contemporary plays looks at Tim Fountains play Sex Addicts that uses the internet live during performance, and the work that contemporary playwrights have developed to stage modern technology within their work. From Patrick Marbers chatroom scene in Closer, to Chatroom by Enid Walsh that is set almost entirely in a virtual world. Digital Performance explores theatre companies and practitioners that are pushing the boundaries between performance and technology, to create contemporary pieces of theatre. The research identified Connected an organisation dedicated to working with artists who use live and interactive media; this included Duncan Speakmen, Hide and Seek and Blast Theory. The findings show that technology has inspired and created new pieces of work, and by breaking free from the traditional theatre conventions, theatre has the ability to inspire and reach a much wider audience. The dissertation recommends that as the digital age is here to stay, the use of technology is integral to keep theatre current and relevant for a modern audience.


Introduction4 Chapter One Digital Technology and Theatres7 Chapter Two Technology and the internet in contemporary plays.....16 Chapter Three Digital Performance....25




Technology; Theatres, Plays and Digital Performance.


Massive developments have been made in technology in the last decade: the world as we know it has changed radically, and continues to do so. The biggest developments can be seen through the ability to connect people, with the majority of the Western population now owning mobile phones, computers and an internet connection. The change has been extremely rapid with technological developments taking hold and ingraining themselves with contemporary society in less than a quarter of a century. The explosion of digital culture in the last decade will continue to resonate long into this century. (Dekker, Blast Theory) This technological world we now find ourselves submerged in is unquestionably here to stay. Theatre has always been at the forefront of exploring and reflecting key changes in society. This dissertation sets out to explore and analyse the impact that technology has had on contemporary theatre, plays and performance.

In the 80s and 90s the growth in film, digital arts, technology and interactive media started to filter into the arts world in particular within Avant-Garde performance. However there was and still is a backlash with some traditional theatre goers arguing that the use of interactive media does not constitute theatre, believing this term only applies in instances when live performers (actors) create a contained drama that the audience are invited to watch - theatre. This type of theatre is a safe and comfortable environment for the audience; they have an expectation of the role they must play as the audience. The term performance came from a rejection of the commodification

of the material object. It stood for a new type of theatre where the body was the vital element, whereas previously the idea of time, space and action defined theatre. Performance allowed practitioners the freedom to develop and create new and experimental forms of art outside the world of the theatre. The body was used as a tool to explore ideas and concepts while theatre form and language was adapted and explored until it was unrecognisable. Performance broke away from the limitations that traditional theatre had imposed upon itself, thus performance gives theatre practitioners the ability to create and devise productions that less rigidly conform to the expectations that traditional theatre sets.

Marvin Carlson examines the struggle with defining performance in contemporary society: A growing interest in and utilization of technology and modern media in both theatre and performance art has further blurred the boundaries between these performance activities. (Carlson, ix) However Steve Dixon is more forceful in his approach In the digital world you cannot distinguish different disciplines by the physical nature of the media or by which work is createdwhy not be aggressive in the tumultuous context of the digital revolution? Why not claim all interactive art in the name of theater. (Dixon, 5) He defines Digital Performance to broadly to include all performance works where computer technologies play a key role rather than a subsidiary one in content, techniques, aesthetics or delivery forms. (Dixon, 3) His definition will be used within the piece when referring to Digital Performance. The definition of plays within this work will refer to non participatory performance taking place in a traditional theatre setting, where technology may play a subsidiary role.

Printed material on technology is still limited. New technology evolves so quickly that printed material becomes dated soon after publication. Research published on the internet with theatres, plays and performance is scarce; and an area that this work will highlight.

Chapter one explores how theatres use digital technology, specifically the internet as a powerful tool to enhance the experience of current theatre goers and engage a new audience. Digital media technologies are affecting every aspect of our society, economy and culture. Arts and cultural organisations can now connect with the public in new ways, bringing them into a closer relationship with culture and creating new ways for them to take part. (Digital Audiences, 8) New technology has enabled new initiatives such as National Theatre Live and Digital Theatre to develop and their success is evaluated using studies carried out by NESTA and the British Council.

Chapter two explores three plays that respond to technology and primarily the internet. The plays focused on are: Closer by Patrick Marber, Chatroom by Enda Walsh and Sex Addicts by Tim Fountain. The chapter explores Marbers and Walshs methods for tackling staging the virtual in reality; and how the internet can be used live within a play as a subsidiary aid within Fountains Sex Addicts.

In the final chapter: Digital Performance we look at artists and performance groups, such as Blast Theory and Hide&Seek, that have created innovative performance where technology plays a key role; without the technology the performance would not be possible.

Chapter One
Digital Technology and Theatres

I go to a lot of conferences on the subject of audience engagement in the digital age and how to address it, and I still hear people saying, When it all settles down and we can see what has happened to the relationship between people, technology and culture, well take sustained action. But its not going to settle down, at least not in our lifetimes Alex Fleetwood (Gardner, Hide and Seek)

The following chapter will explore the impact that digital technology has had on theatres; how the internet can be used as a powerful marketing tool and advances that have enabled performances to be viewed outside of the theatre, therefore widening its audience.

The internet is defined as a worldwide system of computer networks which enables the user to share and gain information from various sources, as long as permission is granted. The internet was created to share information easily funded by the government, commercial use was prohibited. This continued until the mid 1990s when companies found ways to bypass the governments network, and create their own. At this point the National Science Foundation ended its sponsorship of the original network, and all traffic came from commercial networks. The internet entered households around this time as network makers developed software to connect Personal computers (PCs) to the internet. It was however Microsofts entry as an internet service provider that revolutionized the internet: they developed a browser and server that was easy to use and built into the desktop Windows 98.

Today the internet is a self-sustaining facility accessible to hundreds of millions of people around the world. The website Internet World Statistics found that in 2010

nearly 29% (appendix 1) of the worlds population were internet users. A survey conducted by Ofcom in 2009 found that this figure rises dramatically in England with 72% (appendix 2) of the adult population having internet access in their home. Electronic mail known more widely as email is the most widely used application on the internet and has overtaken the postal service as a quicker and more reliable way to stay in contact. The success of the internet must be in part be due to the fact it allows users freedom to access a huge amount of information that would not have been readily available previously. Much of this information is free.

Internet Technology is constantly developing and advancing: it is now possible to have live conversations with anyone connected to the internet using internet relay chat (IRC) as seen in chat rooms, and the well known IRC programme MSN. IRC makes it possible to connect not just to people you know online, but also strangers. It has become increasingly uncommon to find businesses without websites and personal use with the growth of social network sites has been phenomenal, with a reported 500 million people using just one of the sites available Facebook ( A report published on Digital audiences: engagement with arts and culture online found that people surveyed responded positively to technology with 61% agreeing that they love new technology and only 10% disagreeing. (Digital Audiences, 14).

As the internet is a relatively recent phenomenon, research on its impact is limited. . Chris Wilkinson raises the pivotal question Is the internet good or bad for theatre?(Wilkinson, Noises Off). This is the starting point for my analysis of the relationship between the internet and theatre and performance. The world of theatre

and arts is rooted in tradition and while avant-garde performers and companies have pushed against these constraints and boundaries it often takes time to create an impact on the theatre world. Director of Hide&Seek, Alex Fleetwood, argues that contemporary theatre companies should strive to explore these technological changes: We are living through perpetual technological and cultural change: seismic shifts that challenge the way we make and distribute the performing arts. (Gardner, Hide and Seek)

When discussing the effect of the internet on theatre it is vital to explore the widening of communication within the arts world. The internet has enabled a wider range of participants to become involved in projects and to make contact with people with similar interests and performance ideals. Online script submission has increased the opportunities for new writers to submit their work. An example of this increase can be seen with the Bristol based theatre The Tobacco Factory, a relatively small theatre company who received over 250 scripts (Lomax, Tobacco Factory Plus Development) for their script space competition in 2011. Their high online response contrasts with the Welsh National theatre, a much larger and high profile company, who did not accept online submissions and received just 187 scripts (Playwriting Competition - Previous Winners.) Online submission enables local theatres to receive submissions from all around the world. This leads to increased revenue when there is a competition entry fee and also widens the chance of finding talented play writers.

The internet has also enabled the use of videos recordings and Skype: an online IRC video conference call to auditions for theatre companies. The practise of conducting auditions over Skype is something that has been used within television and film, to

allow actors to audition for roles. In theatre however the use of Skype almost unheard of; however this changed in 2010 when it was used in a competition Old Vic New Voices Cultural Exchange to find young actors. Although an audition is still favoured, actors werent being ruled out for being unable to make an audition date, but are offered the chance to try via a recorded video, or Skype to see if they merit an individual interview date. The benefit of online auditions, are similar to online play submissions: opportunities to engage are made available to a larger group of people. This has shown that it is possible; and opened the door for other theatres to follow their lead.

In terms of marketing and generating revenue the internet is a powerful tool. Theatre companies need to recognise this, and use it to keep in touch with existing theatre goers and attract new audiences. The internet is particularly useful when engaging with a youth audience and theatre needs to be accessible to a younger generation if it is to continue to thrive as an art form. Many other forms of media such as cinema, gaming and television are far more popular. Teenagers spend a staggering average of 31 hours on the internet each week (Garner, 2009), this activity is ranked third: only sleeping and education take up more hours. Internet time is used to check social networking sites, use chat rooms, forums and download music.

Other arts/entertainment organisations have been quick to exploit the internet: film companies have trailers uploaded to social networking sites, use viral advertising and create websites to share extra content and drum up interest. Gaming companies have incorporated online multiplayer versions and made some content only available to online players. Online subscriptions generate extra revenue and online activities


increase interest in their products. Many theatre companies are lagging behind, and not embracing this new technological trend. Teenagers and young people are the next generation of theatre goers but they need to be encouraged and enticed. It is clear that the online connection needs to clearly identified and utilised as a means of engaging this target audience.

Social network sites can be used to promote theatre shows, and reach out to the younger generation. A good website can also go far in helping to market theatres and used by the general public to find out information about shows, book tickets, read actors blogs and even join forums to discuss shows they have seen. If well designed, a website can be a major tool in helping to generate interest in a theatre or show.

One company who have embraced the new online community is The National Theatre Wales; Artistic Director John McGrath said we wanted National Theatre Wales to be digital from day one (Price, 2009). Opening in 2009 from funding by the Welsh Assembly Government, it was launched to the community simultaneously online and offline. Offline this was done in the tradition way; with the artistic director giving speeches about future productions. Online this was achieved by satellite links with various venues around Wales, and an online chat room, when you were able to gain a wealth of knowledge about what this new theatre hoped to achieve. This enabled people who were able to use the internet to engage fuller with the launch experience. Nicola Thomas says I think all of us who were at the National Theatre Wales launch - either in person or online - are still a bit breathless. (Thomas, 2009) The technological and social networking side of National Theatre Wales seems to have worked, as since it was re-launched their ticket sales have increased dramatically.


Seven shows in, all but one National Theatre Wales productions have sold out (Bryant, 2010) This proves that when harnessed well, the internet can have powerful effect on theatre, boost audiences and generate new interest and enthusiasm.

Making theatre accessible to the general public is not a new concern: non or infrequent theatre goers have many misconceptions and theatres companies are conscious of the need to attract a wider demographic. Two companies that use that use the internet and technology in innovative ways to attract a new audience are National Theatre Live (NTL) and the company Digital Theatre. A new way of viewing theatre began in 2009 with NTL, a program by the National Theatre London in which live productions at the National Theatre were simultaneously broadcast to 71 cinemas in the United Kingdom, 200 others countries around the world; and viewed by over 50,000 people. In its opening season it broadcast three plays, the first, Phdre, on the 25th of June 2009; followed by Alls Well That Ends Well and Nation. It gives people who are abroad or to far to travel to National Theatre the ability to watch the production.

NESTA; National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, carried out an investigation for the National Theatre that examined their production of Phdre analysing the different audience responses at the theatre, and the cinema. The report found that NTL reached out to people on lower incomes with a fifth of theatre audience earning less than 20,000 compared with a quarter of the cinema audience (appendix 3). This significant difference shows that NTL increased their demographic because the production was less expensive to view at the cinema; attracting an


audience that might not have the disposable income to pay for a theatre ticket; or the travel involved were able to see the production.

The most shocking findings from the report showed that the audience at the cinema had seen far more absorbed than the theatre audience. With over sixty percent of the cinema audience saying they strongly agreed that were totally absorbed compared to just under forty per cent of the theatre audience(appendix 4). This massive difference seems shocking; however reviewer Michael Billington agrees, saying that he thought that Phdre seemed to work better at the cinema than on stage due to the ability to control what elements the audience saw; But the main lesson is that a theatre production can be made democratically available to a mass audience without any loss of quality: indeed because the camera can mix close-up and long shot and because we can all hear easily, the aesthetic impact may actually be enhanced. (Theatre Review: Phdre) By embracing new technology the National Theatre has reached out to a new audience not only for themselves but for theatre in general (appendix 5); with nearly a third of the cinema audience saying that they are more likely to attend a play at another theatre in the future. The responses that the report found were better than The National Theatre had expected; with nearly ninety per cent of the audience saying that they would be more likely to attend other live performance broadcasts of theatre performances in the future.(appendix 5) After a very successful first season NTL is currently [2011] in its second season and adding productions by partnership companies. Launched just after National Theatre Live on the 25th of October 2009; Digital theatre aims to go one step further than NTL by making theatre productions available any


time and any place. Digital theatre is a website that provides users the ability to pay to download theatre productions from Britains leading theatre companies onto their computers. There are a wide range of productions already online with more being added every few months. The productions are filmed using high-definition technology and multiple camera angle which the company states capture live performance authentically onscreen. ( The website has attracted visitors from over 105 countries around the world; and large amount of press attention. The main difference between NTL and Digital Theatre is the fact that with NTL you are watching a live performance but with Digital Theatre you are watching a pre recorded event which removes the live element completely. A survey on Digital Audiences for Arts and Culture found that a large majority of the people surveyed felt that watching online experiences would be inferior to the live element; Three fifths agree that they do not expect an online experience of arts or culture to be as good as seeing or hearing things live(Digital Audiences, 31) A Review of Digital Theatre from the website a younger theatre supports these findings: Although a thoroughly engaging experience, I wont be substituting the live experience of theatre for downloadable versions just yet (Wollard, 2010) However Digital Theatre has like NTL widen their audience; it enabled people who may not have had the time; or been able due to location to view their productions. It also means that unlike in theatres where productions may only have short runs; of a month or two their content is available to download for a much longer amount of time in the future; it also means that people who have viewed the show at the theatre could download the performance as a souvenir to watch again. These two initiatives are still in early days; but the reports have proved there is clearly a demand for these services and they have both been highly successful. They are not a substitute for the live theatre and performance;


Our respondents saw the internet first and foremost as augmenting the live experience rather than replacing it (Digital Audiences, 7) but they compliment the experience; and make theatre accessible for a wider audience. The use of digital technology is not detrimental; it will not take over from being at a live performance but it is a tool that when used well can enhance the world of theatre and performance:

Our segmentation clearly shows that leading edge consumers of digital technology also tend to be passionate about the arts and regular attendees at live arts and cultural events. In other words, although engaging with the arts and cultural sector through the internet is now a mainstream activity, this does not appear to be to the detriment of the live experience. (Digital Audiences, 44)

The next chapter will explore playwrights that explore technology within their plays.


Chapter Two
Technology and the internet in contemporary plays

With societys convergence with the media, a sense of community is lost. Theatre is under-attended, but chat rooms are over-flowing. (Parker-Starbuck, 222)

As the internet plays such a huge role in everyday life it is not surprising that it has been an inspiration for modern playwrights; in particular writers specialising in scripts for the youth market. However, there have been issues in representing the internet on the stage; it has been problematic for writers. Making dialogue between characters interesting engages an audience, along with how the characters physically interact with each other. Staging the internet is therefore hard because there is a lack of the spoken word and physical reaction: it is very static. It is not engaging to watch a person typing at a computer screen without knowing what they are saying. Much like in a realist play where we do not often see characters carrying out everyday chores, seeing characters checking email is not sufficiently dramatic and therefore not interesting for an audience. Playwrights have explored different ways to get around this problem and the most common and obvious way, is the use of projection as seen in Closer by Patrick Marber, Chatroom by Enda Walsh and Sex Addicts by Tim Fountain. Projection is used in each performance in varying ways: in Closer an image of an internet chatroom is projected on the back wall, similarly in Sex addicts a projection of a chatroom is shown, however in this play it is a live feed. This is in contrast to Walshs Chatroom where projection is used just once to dramatise a key moment.


Marbers Closer was described as Aggressively Contemporary (Innes, 433) in its themes, language and inclusion of a chat room scene in which two characters communicate. Closer was part of the In-yer-face theatre of the 1990s; theatre designed to engage the audience via shock tactics: language used within it was often aggressive.

The internet opens up communication: we are able to contact anyone, anywhere in the world, at the touch of a button. There are similarities with telecommunication, however the internet has fewer limitations: there is constant activity on the internet and there is a higher degree of anonymity as internet protocols do not force users to identify themselves. This means the users can recreate themselves and be whoever they want to be at any time. Marber explores this concept in his play. The chatroom scene not only illustrates the fragmentation of human relationships through technology, but also gives us a representation of how people in society have become: sex has become commodified and true feeling impossible. (Innes, 431) The title, Closer is in direct contrast to the reality of the play, and the characters we see before us: characters are physically close, but lack the ability to make emotional connections and long lasting relationships. As Alex Sierz states, with all their obsession with finding love, they can achieve no more than physical intimacy. (Innes, 431)

In Closer Alice works as a stripper; she makes money using her sexuality. The transition when Larry offers her large amounts of money to tell him her real name, shows he is not just trying to buy sex from her, he is interested in the truth and a real relationship, not only sexual. The internet scene is a physical representation of the distance between characters; how they feel, and what they do. As Sierz comments


The words typed by the two men in their separate spaces either side of the stage, which appear on screens above each others heads, graphically demonstrate the driving forces of the action: The replacement of emotional commitment by physical gratification; Egoism; the gap between language and truth, together with the absence of any real communication; Deception and manipulation. (433)

In the chatroom scene, Marber explores the issue of disconnect between fantasy and reality. This creates a comic effect for the audience, who can see the difference between what the two men are typing, and who they are in reality. The characters Larry, and Dan, are free to explore their sexuality on the internet. We must also take into account that this is perhaps the most truthful and honest scene in the whole play. The characters have no preconceived ideas about each other; therefore we see the true nature of the characters within this scene. The character of Larry could be true of many heterosexual males using a chat room, who openly discusses his sexual fantasies, however Dan in this scene, is more complex. This manifests itself as Dan pretending to be Anna on the chat room; he presents himself as the ultimate sexual male fantasy, Dark hair. Dirty mouth. Epic Tits...36DD. (Marber, 22) This swapping of gender online is referred to as gender fucking. (479) Through creating the role of Anna he is able to stay in control of the situation at all times and often openly mocks Larry: Im cumming right now.ohohohoh%*(( (Marber, 24). For Dan the situation seems like something he does for entertainment: he wants to see how far Larry is willing to go to fulfil his fantasy. His constant demanding shows he is the one in control of the situation by getting Larry to meet up with him. However Marber later turns the power control on its head with the joke that Dan ended up as Larry and Annas personal matchmaker. Sierz stresses that the scene is not only sexually explicit but has the shock of up-to-date immediacy, ( 435) It is true to real life.


The way in which Marber deals with the conversation on the internet is to have the characters mine typing on a keyboard at a computer while their conversation is displayed on a chat room projection, with the text appearing as if the conversation is taking place in real time. Within the text there are clear guidelines on the way in which Marber wants the scene to be staged The scene is silent. Their dialogue appears on a large screen simultaneous to their typing it. (Marber, 21) This leads little room for directors and producers to put their own stamp on the scene. It is unlike spoken dialogue where the actors can place emphasis on certain words or an expression as the dialogue is projected. If productions do not have the budget or ability to use projection within their performance they may, after seeking permission from the authors agent, use the scene he has created and speak the dialogue, but even then a clear distinction between the typed dialogue and the spoken dialogue must be established. The benefit in having this scene projected is the use of real dialect used on the internet. The shortening of words, and the over use of punctuation and capitalisation which is common place to show emotion is seen in the phases We liv as we dream,ALONE, (Marber, 25) . When translated into speech, it loses the authentic voice of the internet that Marber strived to replicate. Marber has a very distinct style of writing, using short sentences, snappy lines and a quick pace throughout the whole play. It does seem at times to have been influenced by online chatrooms, where people have become accustomed to instant gratification. They are not interested in small talk or social conventions; but are a lot more open, honest and frank. Marbers style of writing is often compared to [David] Mamet because of the compressed, stunted language. (Sierz, 429)


When the play opened at the Royal National Theatre, it was seen as a leader in exploring the virtual world on stage, and received critical acclaims even winning the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy. The production was taken to Broadway and made into a feature length film. Closer was a forerunner at presenting the internet to theatre audiences, however, after the first production Marber questioned the audiences ability to understand the technology. The internet was new and therefore not that widely used although the younger generation had no problem whatsoever understanding what was going on. This is shown by Marbers comment: I would watch the audience and I could just tell that the majority, in fact, had no idea what they were watching. Whereas the younger people in the audience absolutely knew, oh my God they're in a chatroom. (Tripney, 2007) The reason this scene was so well received was the fact that it had shock value, it had not been explored in theatre before, and the use of the internet was not as talked about or wide spread as it is currently. Marbers approach worked well for its time: the use of projection succeeded as a scene within a play as it was novel, exciting and visually engaging, but to have a whole play based on this idea would be risky as the audience could easily lose interest.

As the internet is developing and changing so quickly so must playwrights, to stay relevant and contemporary. In fact in relation to the 2005 play Chatroom by Enda Walsh, seven years later, where the majority of the play takes plays within a virtual chatroom, Closer cannot help but feel outdated. Developed originally in 2005 as part of the National Theatres Shells Connection education project, where ten playwrights were given a brief to write a play for young people, Chatroom was showcased in 2006 along side the play Citizenship by Mark Ravenhill. Chatroom is set almost entirely


on the internet with the characters communicating with each other through a virtual chatroom. Unlike Closer the text in this play is almost entirely exchanged in the virtual environment of the chatroom. This is shown through language and use of staging. The stage directions state the actors must sit in a row of six chairs, each two metres apart. The rest of the stage is bare. The characters in chat room at no point mime typing. We learn that they are in the virtual world through the dialogue. It becomes clear with the line, So thats what youre doing in a Harry Potter Chatroom. (Walsh, 4) This is our first clear indication that the characters are communicating online; up to this point it just seems like the character are sat apart having a discussion because of the fact they are engaged in dialogue. The chairs show a physical representation that the characters are all linked and lighting is used to highlight when characters are connecting online.

The issues that Walsh deals with in Chatroom are dark, although unlike many other plays based around the virtual world, he avoids the issue of sex. This is likely to have been done because the play was written for a youth audience and some issues may not be age appropriate; especially the darker side of the internet and the exploration of sexual fantasy. As it was developed to be put on by schools and youth theatre groups it had to be appropriate otherwise schools would not have felt comfortable putting it on. The plays central theme is teen suicide; with a clearly depressed Jim being encouraged to commit suicide by the sinister William.

Closer and Chatroom are opposite in the way in which they present the internet to a theatre audience; this is highlighted by the use of projection. In Closer projection is used to show the online world, whereas in Chatroom, projection is used to show the


physical world away from the online chat room. Walsh includes specific instructions within the text as to how the film projection should look and be staged. This is to ensure the piece is visually engaging and keep the projection realistic, akin to something that might be watched on an online video site. It maintains the illusion that these characters exist within the virtual world and outside of it.

Walsh was innovative in his exploration of the internet on stage, and Chatroom received praise from critics; stunning in its sophistication and maturity. (Hanks, 2005) However, it is important to remember that like Closer this play has its own set of limitations. The main issue is the language used in an online chat room, and dialogue spoken is very different. In chat rooms, language is often shortened; slang and abbreviations are also commonly used. The difficulty Walsh must have had when writing the play, was the issue of using real speech or internet dialogue. The decision to use real speech seems to have been positive, and although the play doesnt use language found online, it still works well at capturing the humor and sentiment. The other limitation of the text is the lack of anonymity, in the fact that we can physically see all the characters on stage, and they are all who they say they are. Closer captures that the internet allows people to be completely anonymous, whereas Walsh does not touch upon it.

Chatroom was well received and innovative but as the internet is such a fast growing and evolving technology, work related to it can quickly feel outdated. In terms of keeping theatre current I will now explore the performance Sex Addicts by Tim Fountain. Sex Addicts, a one act play was premiered at the Edinburgh fringe festival in 2004 before moving to the royal court in 2005. Unlike Closer and Chatroom, the


play was not well received by critics: it generated negative reviews and huge amount of media interest because of its controversial subject matter. The play does use technology however, it is not classified as digital performance as the technology played a subsidiary role and the play could still be performed without it.

Sex Addicts focused on Fountains real life sexual encounters: the aim of the show was for Fountain to go away and sleep with someone he found on the internet and then recount his experience at his next show. Fountain surfed the internet, chatrooms, and dating websites during the performance for potential sexual encounters, then the audience were able to choose the person that Fountain would have sex with. He would then report back on the experience in the next days show. The scope for this show was broad and the fact that each show would be different meant that audience members could see the play multiple times and get a different outcome each time. Fountain also recounted stories from his sexual encounters in the past, and flagged up things that he found online which were often explicit and shocking. Similarly to Closer the internet is used as a device for characters or in this case for Fountain to explore his sexuality however, unlike Closer, it is reality not fiction, which is why some people felt it did not constitute a play. Some of the negative press generated was because the people felt that it didnt deserve a place in the theatre: By offering him a public space in which to explore his private compulsions, the Royal Court both degrades its own good name and makes the theatre look an infinitely smaller place. (Billington, Tim Fountain: Sex Addict) Billington felt that Fountains play ridiculed professional theatre. Fountains defends himself saying that he is creating reality theatre as this is what an awful lot of people are doing every day, reality is the ultimate outrage. (Higgins, Internet Sex Addict Show sets out to Shock the Fringe)


When the play was moved to the Royal Court theatre in 2005, there were a few small changes made to the performance: a website was set up allowing people the ability to apply to become a participant in the performance by sleeping with Fountain. This could include members of the audience. Billington reflected on the change and said it made the internet part of the performance pointless as, There is no real suspense, since the audience is obviously going to choose a visible spectator over some sad, shadowy online figure. (Tim Fountain: Sex Addict) In terms of ethics no ones personal details were shown to the audiences viewing the performances, however, morally, the piece has raised questions of the exploitation of some audience members. A reviewer for the Independent stated, A spectator might be tempted to make the moral argument that even exhibitionists deserve not to have such an exhibition made of them. (Taylor, Tim Fountain: Sex Addict) Yet as people arent being singled out or identified, we could question how different it really is from using personal experience to influence a piece and as Fountain says Every comic down the ages has told stories about their bad shags. (Higgins, Internet Sex Addict Show sets out to Shock the Fringe) Commercially, the piece was never going to have the same power as Closer or Chatroom because of the controversial subject nature. Reviews of the piece come down to personal preference, but even its detractors cannot argue with the fact that the play did demonstrate a new and innovative way to use the internet live in performance. The next chapter will move on to explore performance where technology and the internet have larger role within; Digital Performance.


Chapter Three
Digital Performance Audiences are smart ... They see plot twists coming a mile off. They know tropes and devices the instant they appear and are rarely fooled Too often, in theatre, they're getting the same old slop; even when it's postmodern slop, [they] see where it's going and would rather engage in something that engages them back. If someone is texting or Twittering during your show, maybe just maybe it's not them. It's you. (Wilkinson, Noises off)

As already identified to keep theatre current, and accessible to a new audience we must move with the times and find new ways to connect to a modern audience. People tweet, facebook and text during theatre. A review of a performance can be under 140 characters and our attentions spans are at an all time low: is this due to traditional theatre companies not using current technology to engage us, or due to our inability to appreciate art and switch ourselves off from the technological world? One way to engage an audience therefore would be to use the latest technology to enter into this new reality of instant contact, communication and digital exchange.

It could be argued that to not do so, runs contrary to an established tradition as technology has used within theatre throughout the ages. Christopher Baughs Theatre, performance and technology explores how developments in technology have changed the visual elements of theatre. The ability to use electrical light revolutionized theatre as we know it today. But problems can arise when companies lack control of the technology they are using and include it within performance for its own sake purely to create a spectacle. When electrical light was first made available to theatres, many installed it because they automatically thought it would make their shows better and didnt want to be left out. However the ability to adjust lighting


hadnt been developed or explored and the harsh bright electrical light could actually detract rather than enhance performance. We can also see this with current technology: As with the introduction of any new technology, it was scarcely within the thoughts of its inventors and the first users to offer anything less than its full potential why develop a new technology that can achieve a significant improvement only to operate it at well below its full capabilities? (Baugh, 24) The problem that theatre practitioners then face is finding the right balance between using technology to its full potential and controlling the use to avoid it taking over a performance.

The dilemmas and issues that arise when using technology in performance hasnt stopped its increased use; because alongside the disadvantages, technology has the potential to create and enhance new performance in ways that past theatre makers and practitioners could only have dreamt of. The use of technology and with this, media in theatre can unite mediums and create astonishing performance. Theatre that incorporates interactive media has the potential to combine the strengths of both live performance and media. (Saltz, 109) The potential to create new astonishing performance is available and theatre companies have been using and creating technology during there performance to varying degrees.

As Technology has changed and evolved throughout the last century so has its use within performance. With each development theatre practitioners have strived to integrate and make use of these advances. This chapter will explore theatre companies that have used the latest technology to develop new performances and specifically, companies who have worked with the organisation Connected. Funded by the British Council, Connected is an organisation dedicated to showcasing


performers from the United Kingdom in Tokyo, who work and engage with live and interactive media within their performances. They have also created a website designed to allow people to share their thoughts and opinions on the performances.

At first glance the performances discussed in this chapter may not seem like theatre; as they are not traditional. Without technology the performance would not be able to take place. Technology plays a main role within each performance classifying them as Digital Performance. The common factor in each of these performances is the audience participation they involve; commonly losing actors in favour of participants; who take on the role of actor instead. Work by the artists under Connected may be referred to as Instillation Art or perhaps even Gaming however they all have grounds in performance and it is the nature of the technology that they explore that means; they can not to be confined to a traditional theatre setting, such as in the case of Blast Theory.

Blast Theory , a performance group formed in the early 1990s have been at the forefront of technological developments in performance and use interactive media to create performance. This enables them to explore interactivity and the social and political aspects of technology. (About Blast Theory) Their first performance in 1991, Gunmen Kill Three made use of technology with live video projections. Since then they have worked at the forefront of technology and built up their reputation for innovation in the late 1990s with their 1998 performance Kidnap, and their 1999 performance Desert Rain.


In their controversial 1998 performance Kidnap, they invited members of the public to pay and enter a competition where the prize was to be kidnapped for 48 hours. Matt Adams who developed Kidnap said it was to explore symbiotic relationship between the kidnapper and the victim (Rampton, 1998) The project failed to gain a grant from the British Council and so turned to sponsorship from the clothing company Firetrap to obtain the substantial amount of the money they needed for the venture. The performance was advertised in cinemas, by a forty-five second clip directing people to ring the helpline, or visit their website to sign up to take part in the performance. Over a hundred people signed up, via email and application forms; from these ten were randomly picked to be put under surveillance, and ultimately be kidnapped. By entering the competition people were also given free tickets to the ICA in London and Green room in Manchester where special kidnap rooms were set up, in which members of the public were able to watch a live web broadcast, take part in an online chat room, email the kidnappers and control a mobile camera in the safe house.

The act of people watching the kidnapping makes it into a performance and Adams states he saw the performance as similar to a Pinter experiment in which the two winners were trapped together in the room for 48 hours. On the application form there was a list of options to help you build your own kidnap fantasy which included, being kept in your underwear, being fed jam donuts, or having the kidnappers dressed as a Police officer or Nazis. One option that Blast Theory originally tried to include was being kept tied up but the lawyer that they had hired to draw up a contract said that this could be viewed as too extreme, an invasion of privacy and should be left off the list. Creator of Kidnap, Matt Adams defends the work, I don't see this as any different from a straight play about a kidnap or paintball games. They all have the


potential to upset someone with experience of the real thing, but those are not grounds to consider it inappropriate. (Rampton, 1998) The problem that arose from the experiment was although everyone had consented to take part, and the ten people being watched were sent a reminder, one of the winners had forgotten they had agreed to take part. She said of the performance I know they were performing, but for me it was real. (Palmer, Lost in Cyberspace and a Fortune to Hostage) The other hostage, Stephen Armstrong has a much more philosophical reaction to the experiment: My view of the performance was clouded by the terror, frustration, boredom and fury that dominated my 24 hours in captivity. Then again, maybe that was the point of it all. Certainly, no other performance I have ever seen has brought about such intense extremes of emotion. (Featured: Blast Theory) However all of the applicants had provided a safe word, which if they said at any time would stop the experiment; therefore both participants must have felt safe, and wanted to stay for the experience.

This was one of the first live broadcasts of a performance through the internet as the audience had the ability to watch the performance live from their own computers. Cameras were controllable on the internet, and chat rooms were set up for the entire period encouraging the audience to comment and engage with the performance. The experiment however didnt seem have the shock factor that people were expecting, with one online user commenting, Cant you make them do something? (Palmer, Lost in Cyberspace and a Fortune to Hostage) Adams defended the experiment saying It was quite hard for us being bored watching you being bored (Palmer, Lost in Cyberspace and a Fortune to Hostage) People were expecting a highly dramatic


performance when in fact they watched the reality of two people trapped together for 48hours. Blast Theorys next project Desert Rain was just as ambitious.

Virtual Reality is a term first coined by Jason Lanier and is a real or simulated environment in which technology is used to allow the user to suspend their belief, and accept what they see, as the truth. In performance the use of Virtual reality allows practitioners the ability to create a whole new environment, a world, in which to submerge the audience, with ease in comparison to traditional practise methods. As Chris Wilkinson explains, digital performances can bridge performance with virtual reality to create an augmented reality: Of course, interactive art is not just confined to the virtual reality of the web; it can also flourish in the concrete reality of the city. At its best, it can traverse the two.(Wilkinson, Noises off) Nottingham University's Mixed Reality Labs chief investigator Steve Benford, who worked with Blast Theory to create Desert Rain defines augmented reality as overlaying a virtual world on your view of the real world so that you experience both at the same time. (Blast Theory MLR, BBC) Augmented Reality can be a useful tool because it breaks down traditional theatre conventions, such as the fourth wall. It forces the audience or user to become part of the performance meaning that they cant stand back and ignore it. This is the reason why Augmented Reality is a useful tool within contemporary theatre. We now have technology that enables us not only to transport the audience to a different location via dialogue and staging but also through the use of technology which can create a whole new world for them to encounter.

Desert Rain was a digital performance based on the Gulf war that used Augmented Reality, performance and installation to blur the boundary between the real and the


virtual for the participants. There were six participants, each were given a swipe card of a person they must find. The participants were then split apart and led to an area where they stood in front of a rain screen, on a foot pad. The aim was to use the footpad to seek out their given targets in the virtual world that was projected on a rain curtain. If unsuccessful in their task they were greeted with the classic game over title as in many existing computer games. If they were successful a performer would emerge through the rain curtain and lead them to another performance area. The participant would then swipe their target card which would prompt a video to play depending on their target. These were pre recorded videos of six people affected by the Gulf War including a solider, news reporter, a passive spectator, a peace worker, an actor. The participants would later discover a box planted in their coats or belongings containing approximately 100,000 grains of sand to represent the number of people who lost their lives in the Gulf War.

Desert Rain has been hailed as one of the most successful pieces of digital performance of the 90s. The critical acclaim was accorded not just for its artistic merits but also for its scientific interface. A quote from Gabriella Giannachi on Blast Theorys website states that it was one of the most complex and powerful responses to the first Gulf War to be produced within the sphere of theatrical practice. ( While a quote from Steve Dixon goes further to say it was one of the most successful and advanced digital performances of the late 90s... a seminal experimental production fusing the technological complexity of hard science skills with a truly original artistic vision. ( Desert Rain leads the way for


other performance artists to create new forms of Digital Performance using different forms of technology.

Duncan Speakman is a performance artist who also worked with Connected to create a Digital Performance with his piece As if it was the last time commissioned by the Vauxhall Collective in 2009. This piece uses technology such as the internet and a MP3 players to create a performance. Not to be confused with a Flashmob, whose aim is to attract attention, a subtlemobs aim is to be invisible. The performance is described in the following on subtlemobs website Sometimes youll just be drifting and watching, but sometimes youll be following instructions or creating the scenes yourself. ( The performance has taken place in cities around the UK and abroad and received many positive reviews. The Londonist commented, Capricious and profound, the experience definitely captures what it is to escape from the world for a little bit and then to return and find that you see things just a bit differently. (Sloane, 2009)

As if it was the last time was spread via an email from their Website, a facebook event and word of mouth. To take part in the performance you needed to visit the website and sign up your name online, and in return you would receive a link or email to a map, a location and time, and an MP3 which you needed to download to your phone or MP3. On reaching the performance area you have to start the track at the allocated time. No one is there to remind you to press play, no one is marked out as the creator of the performance, you are left to your own devices making you wonder if you are the only one there for the performance. The surprise and excitement then comes when you identify other people around you who are also taking part, from their headphones


and hurried walk or the stolen glance. Even though you think you have identified another person taking part you cant be totally sure until the end when you as a performer are encouraged to hold onto the partner you have come with and dance as if it was the last time. Although the performance is set in a designated area the beauty of the performance is that the participants cant be sure who is also there for the same reason, as it takes place in a public space. This performance that has come out of developments in technology and the internet, it would have been completely unimaginable in the past.

Another company taking part in Digital Performance is the company Hide&Seek. On their website Hide&Seek describe themselves as a game design studio dedicated to inventing new kinds of play. ( They create social interactive games that allow people to develop their creative side. They have faced some criticism for not being seen as performance in the most traditional sense, but Lyn Gardner, the renowned Guardian theatre critic, champions them as understanding a fundamental difference between traditional theatre and performance: That company understood that it's not the play, but play that's the thing (Hide&Seek: the Company That Wants You to Play More) . Hide&Seek were influenced by Punchdrunks 2005 performance The Fireball, a theatre installation allowing the audience to interact and devise their own show. Struck by the show's ability to meld theatre with game-playing devices, [Alex] Fleetwood [creator of Hide&seek] realised that the gap between live performance and online experiences was not a big one. (Gardner, Hide&Seek) This performance influenced Fleetwood enormously: he was interested in the way that games make people act in ways that they would not in


normal society. He wanted to use the power of games to create performances that were interactive, that would engage the audience and allow them to not worry about the constraints that society had placed on them.

Hide&Seek collaborated with Nikki Pugh to develop the game The Bloop; exploring the migration of whales. The audience [participants] were given either the role of a Whale or Krill: a small sea creature. Participants who were given the role of a Whale had to wear blacked out sonar goggles and have an inflatable whale toy on their heads. Meanwhile people who received the role of Krill were expected to chase the Whales and take ribbons off the inflatable attached to the Whales heads. The sonar goggles worn by the Whales stopped the user from being able to hear the sounds around them and instead admited a beep noise whenever somebody came near. In contrast the Krill were only able to move when they heard a Boop sound on the music playing. The game uses technology to create an augmented reality in which the participants are submerged. A review of The Bloop supports this detachment from reality, its a strange and very different way of navigating the world.(Gramazio, 2010) By creating an augmented reality through gaming, the audience are happy to join in and break expectations. Lyn Gardner, who was a participant in The Bloop explains, I've never knowingly run blind with a plastic whale on my head. But Hide&Seek is not just a network of games designers: it's a network of players, too. Players become designers and then players again, in an unending circle of doing and consuming. (Hide&Seek: the Company That Wants You to Play More) The involvement of the audience helps to create and develop the games, therefore to understand the performance you must engage with it. In Hide&Seeks performances audiences are forced to engage and play to get the most out of their experience. It is


interactive performance at its least threatening, and this is the effect that Fleetman strives for within his interactive games:

I've often heard audiences come out of a contemporary opera, or an experimental theatre piece, and say, I didn't really get that and I don't feel equipped to criticise it. But I've never heard anyone who has just played a game say, I don't feel equipped to criticise that. (Gardner, Hide&Seek)

By breaking down the barriers between audience and theatre makers by playing games it allows people the freedom to express themselves without fear of seeming uneducated. Reviewer Victor Hallett for Theatre Wales expressed his opinion on defining the work that Hide&Seek do as theatre after seeing another of their performances The Beach: So theatre, not sure; theatrical, certainly(Hallett The Beach) It is a performance moving away from traditional theatre it works to engage the audience and turn them into participants. David Sillito argues however that the company deserve the title of theatre. Hide and Seek is a new kind of theatre which swaps scripts and actors for social games and playful experiences. (2009)

Digital Performance is still relatively new, thus each performance that integrates technology within performance to engage the audience, is helping us learn about how this technology can be harnessed and developed. Advances in technology mean that Digital performance is still ever changing and evolving which is an exciting prospect for the theatre and performances of the future.


Perhaps more than any other, the new generation; people born from the 1990s onwards are an age group who have grown up surrounded by technology. It has played a huge role in their lives and is commonplace. They are used to interactive media and gaming, thus they demand more from theatres. They want to play a role and be engaged by performances. They want to easily order a ticket to the theatre. They want information to be available at the touch of a button. Of course this doesnt apply to everyone but we must be realistic: getting young people interested in an art form that doesnt offer this level of engagement would be extremely hard. Additionally, new technology can also be used to pull in other groups as well; traditional theatre may not excite or interest some people, whereas performance that incorporates technology and connects with the digital age can have a much broader appeal.

As the research has found some theatres are embracing the digital age by connecting with their audience via a huge variety of social network websites, online forums, chatrooms and even mobile phone applications. Theatre companies will continue to use the internet as a way of breaking down distances; allowing cross country collaborations with relative ease; making theatre more accessible to the British population and people in other countries. The research highlighted in chapter one has shown that audiences are generally receptive to new technology, and embrace new ways of viewing performance. This does not however mean that traditional theatre should be completely dismissed. The live element of performance plays an important part in attracting an audience.


As illustrated in chapter two, it is possible to successfully use the latest technology within traditional plays. Technology and the internet in particular, have become such an important part of society, it is only natural to write about them and include them within performance. The research has shown that playwrights are coming up with innovative ways to incorporate the latest technology into their performance. Their approaches can change rapidly even within a timeframe of less than eight years: from Marbers Closer to Tim Fountains Sex Addicts. continue. It is inevitable that this process will

The last chapter has found that technology is not just used by playwrights, but by theatre practitioners and companies to create a new type of performance Digital Performance. Here, technology is used to create performances that would not work without it. Blast theory have been a forerunner in Britain at using technology and live media to create breathtaking performances; and other theatre companies are learning how powerful this approach can be and following their example.

This body of work has focused on theatre being produced and made within the Britain, however we must acknowledge the fantastic theatres and performance groups that work with technology all over the world, most notably Americas Wooster Group and Canadian born Robert Lepage. Both create astonishing performances using interactive media and technology. This is the new digital age, and it is undoubtedly here to stay. We should stop focusing on what can be defined as a theatre show and embrace this new type of art and performance. The rules of the game have changed. So for us, technology isnt


simply a new strand of work its signalling what the future might look like. (Cavendish, 2010) We can not say for certain the impact that technology will ultimately have on performance; but the future is looking bright. (Word Count: 10,026)



Appendix 1:

(World Internet Usage Statistics News and World Population Stats, 2010)

Appendix 2:

(Communications Market Report: English Regions, 112)


Appendix 3:


Appendix 4:

(Bakhshi, 9)


Appendix 5:

(Bakhshi, 11)


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Fusco, Coco. "On-Line Simulations/Real-Life Politics A Discussion with Ricardo Dominguez on Staging Virtual Theatre." TDR/The Drama Review 47.2 (2003): 15162. Ippolito, Jon. "Ten Myths of Internet Art." Leonardo 35.5 (2002): 485-98. LaFarge, Antoinette. "A World Exhilarating and Wrong: Theatrical Improvisation on the Internet." Leonardo 28.5 (1995): 415-22. The MIT Press. Web. [Accessed 22 Jan. 2011]. <>. 42

Lichty, Patrick. "The Cybernetics of Performance and New Media Art." Leonardo 33.5 (2000): 351-54. Print. Martha, Wilson. "What Franklin Furnace Learned from Presenting and Producing Live Art on the Internet, from 1996 to Now." Leonardo 38.3 (2005): 193-200. Saltz, David Z. "Live Media: Interactive Technology and Theatre." Theatre Topics 11.2 (2001): 107-30. Vogel, Scott. "Surfing for Godot: Will the Web Deliver Theatre Audiences? It's a Wait-and-See Proposition." American Theatre 18.1 (2001): 70-80.


Gardner, Lyn. "Sex in a Chilling Climate; Patrick Marber's Play about the Flip Side of Swinging London Was an Instant Sensation." The Guardian [London] 3 Jan. 1998, The Guardian Features. Print. Palmer, Judith. "Lost in Cyberspace and a Fortune to Hostage." The Independent [London] 18 July 1998. Print.


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